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I return for a moment to the thorny issue of detention without trial. There will be temptations for the Minister to change the detention period as there are different pressures and as the different forms of terrorism to which we are subject become more and more frequent. I ask him not to give way to the temptation to do so needlessly, pointlessly and damagingly, as the previous Government did. My view is that the period is currently far too long. I ask him to understand that we combated the Irish Republican Army and Irish terrorism, or republican terrorism as I should probably call it more accurately, with a much shorter period of detention without trial. I speak from personal experience, although I entirely take the point that Mr Speaker has just made, Madam Deputy Speaker. We combated that terrorism within the law and with the principle and understanding that a man or woman is innocent until proved guilty. We did so on the basis that those who opposed us were criminals, not freedom fighters or misguided soldiers.

In this short speech, I wish to ask the Minister, if the temptation to increase the detention period arises again, to be fully cognisant of the fact that any period for which we take away a man or woman’s liberty, particularly when faced with the extraordinary difficulties and sensitivities of terrorism, means that we unintentionally add to, aid and abet the terrorists’ cause. In the same way, the death of Drummer Rigby—the death of simply one man, desperately sad though it was—has drawn attention to that cause. If we make an issue of the matter again and try to turn our liberties on their head by adding to simple criminal law in the case of terrorists, we will aid and abet their cause.

I will cease on that point, but I simply say that we must not forget the lessons of the past. We must understand where terrorism will lie in the future, and the House must never be surprised by the depravity and bestiality to which these people can stoop.

6.33 pm

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): It is a real pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer), who served with great distinction on the Home Affairs Committee for five years during the last Parliament. He is regarded as the House’s expert on security matters, and when he was on the Committee he was able to bring his expertise and knowledge to a number of inquiries and reports. He is an assiduous constituency Member of Parliament, and it has been a pleasure to hear from him on this important matter.

The whole House will support the Minister in his order. That was made clear by the shadow Minister for security, and I doubt very much that anyone who speaks in this debate will disagree with the Minister. Having served in the House for a number of years and attended debates on a number of such orders, I can say that it is clear that when Ministers with the security portfolio come before the House to make a statement—some of it based on intelligence that cannot be shared with the House—the House always defers to them and accepts what they say. That is even more important when Members can consider the order, look at the organisations and support what is being done.

I want to raise a few points on how proscription affects groups and how we can improve such orders. I fully support the decision on Boko Haram and Minbar

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Ansar Deen/Ansar al-Sharia, two groups that ought to be proscribed. As we heard from the shadow Minister, one is predominantly active in Nigeria, but with people in this country who support what is going on in Nigeria, north Cameroon and Niger. The other has been involved in all kinds of activities, particularly in Libya, but also in other countries that promote terrorism. In the United Kingdom, it promotes terrorism by distributing content through a forum and its website activities. It regularly advertises its involvement in these matters.

Before I turn to my specific points, I want to pay tribute to our security services for the incredible work they do on a daily basis. They work hard to keep the people of this country safe and sometimes we forget to thank them. We only thank them after there has been a great tragedy, such as the one alluded to by the hon. Member for Newark: the murder of Lee Rigby. Day in, day out, they work extremely hard, necessarily in the shadows, and we need to thank them for what they do.

My worry about proscription orders, especially in respect of new groups, is how the heads of those groups can be chopped off, and, amoeba-like, they can form themselves into different organisations with different names. For example, the Home Secretary proscribed Muslims Against Crusades in November 2011 on the grounds that it was simply a new name for an organisation that was already proscribed. However, as we know from other proscription orders, it is possible for Boko Haram and Ansar al-Sharia, or the people behind them, to suddenly create themselves into new organisations with new names. One example is the case of Mr Anjem Choudary, who has created numerous new organisations after his organisation was proscribed by the Home Secretary: Islam4UK, the Call to Submission, Islamic Path, the London School of Sharia and the Saved Sect, all of which have been banned. The latest is called the Islamic Emergency Defence—the IED.

When the Minister comes to reply, I want assurances that when these two groups and the people behind them form themselves into other organisations, the Government will be ready to proscribe them. This is a difficult area that requires huge expertise from the security services. It is fine for the House to proscribe, but it is a problem if groups create themselves into other organisations.

As we have heard from the shadow Minister, I am concerned, and the Prime Minister is concerned, that Hizb ut-Tahrir is still not the subject of proscription. I thought that the hon. Member for Newark was a little unfair to describe the shadow Minister’s comments as a criticism of the Prime Minister. I know how highly my hon. Friend regards the Prime Minister, and on this issue we believe he is absolutely right: this organisation ought to have been proscribed. This was a criticism not of the Prime Minister, but of the system. The Prime Minister believes, as he did in opposition, that something should be done, but somehow the system does not allow it to happen. That is still a mystery to me, but I live in hope that come 2015 and the next election, the organisation will have been banned.

Patrick Mercer: I hear everything the right hon. Gentleman says, but I think he would agree that there

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are extraordinary circumstances when what appears to be a clear-cut case on the surface is, for intelligence purposes, rather different.

Keith Vaz: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, but I do not think the Prime Minister would have used the words he did unless he was being very careful, and he certainly would have retracted them after he became Prime Minister had he received more information indicating a problem.

We shall leave that to one side, however, as it is not the subject of the order. I am sure the Prime Minister and everyone else is fully behind the proscription of these two organisations. I was disappointed with the Minister’s response to my intervention. He is an accomplished performer at the Dispatch Box and before the Home Affairs Committee—we will be calling him again for our inquiry into international terrorism and crime—but he did not give us any answers today or take us any further on from what he told us on 4 July 2012. That was the last time such an order was put through the House.

The hon. Member for Newark—I was about to call him the Minister for Newark; of course, he ought to have been security Minister at some stage, given his knowledge of the subject, but there is still time, with two years to go—the shadow Minister and I are not suggesting it in this case, but when we proscribe, we ought to put in place a time limit for reviewing the order, not because we would want to de-proscribe as soon as we proscribe, but because it would be right to keep reviewing these organisations, just in case they turn out to be shell organisations. I have mentioned the Tamil Tigers on the two most recent occasions that we have discussed this, although the Minister was not here last time—the Immigration Minister stood in for him. The Tamil Tigers have ceased to exist—everyone in the organisation has ceased to exist—yet they are still proscribed in the United Kingdom.

The Minister invites us to make an application for de-proscription for which there is no timetable. That means, I am afraid, that the matter ends up not in this House, which is responsible for proscription, but in the courts, where organisations are able to spend a lot of money. I think of the People’s Mujahedeen. Like me, Madam Deputy Speaker, you were in the House when that happened, on the Government Benches. A Minister came before the House and said, “We are de-proscribing the People’s Mujahedeen, because they’ve gone to court and won their judicial review.” I do not want these two organisations to do the same thing, which was why I said that the Minister’s answers were unsatisfactory.

The Minister told us one year ago, on 4 July 2012, that there would be a response “in due course”. I have discovered that that is one of the Minister’s favourite sayings—I am going to look in Hansard at how many times he says it; but he was a distinguished lawyer before he came to the House, and “in due course” is something that lawyers tend to say in their arguments. On 22 November 2012, however, the Immigration Minister, who is not a lawyer, used the word “shortly” in the House. “Shortly” clearly means “not next week”, because the response came in March this year.

Indeed, the word “response” also needs to be looked at, because although the Minister said that there had been a response—you were not in the Chair at the time,

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Madam Deputy Speaker, so I will not draw you into this debate—the Government’s response was to say that the report by the independent reviewer of terrorism, David Anderson, QC, had been “noted”. That is a very odd response from the Government. We are used to them saying, “A Select Committee”—or an independent reviewer—“has made a recommendation, and this is what we think about the subject.” This poor chap went through the preparation of that entire report and then waited a whole year to be told that it had been “noted”. Now we hear from the Minister, in his response to me, that he is going to respond—

[

Interruption.

]

I am afraid I have forgotten what he said—it was not “in due course” or “shortly”—and I do not have access to

Hansard

, so when he winds up, perhaps he can remind me what he said he would do.

When we proscribe, we need to be careful that we do not get organisations that can then de-proscribe. There is no point having someone as distinguished as David Anderson, QC, producing reports—poring over all the detail and providing expertise to the Government—and then the Government not responding. All I say to the Minister is this. He has told us that officials are looking into the matter. Well, hooray for officials—distinguished officials, I am sure. He has told us that they are “actively” considering the matter. What does that mean? Since I last raised the matter in the House on 4 July 2012, have officials “inactively” considered it? We have had activity and officials; what we now have are Ministers—good Ministers, such as the security Minister. He is on top of the brief—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. The right hon. Gentleman has been going round this point for nearly five minutes now. Will he please clearly make his point? Then perhaps we can hear what the Minister has to say for himself.

Keith Vaz: I will certainly draw my remarks to a close. I am trying to get the message across, Madam Deputy Speaker—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Well, you’ve done that.

Keith Vaz: I am delighted that I have got the message across to you, Madam Deputy Speaker; I hope I have got the message across to the Minister, too. We look forward to hearing his response.

6.47 pm

James Brokenshire: I thank all right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions to the debate, which has been well informed and well focused on the tasks at hand and the specifics of the order before the House.

Let me comment at the outset on the observations made by my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) about the appalling murder in Woolwich of Drummer Lee Rigby. I am sure that all right hon. and hon. Members will join me in saying that all our thoughts and prayers are with the family in their preparation for Drummer Rigby’s funeral in just a few days’ time. Can I also echo—[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Will the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) move away from the Front Bench? Only the Minister is supposed to be standing there, no other Member.

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James Brokenshire: I echo the comments of the Chair of the Select Committee on Home Affairs about the work of the Security Service, as well as the police involved in counter-terrorism work and, indeed, all officials engaged in keeping our country safe. That includes activities overseas, as well as in the United Kingdom. I wholly endorse his comments about how so much of that work necessarily has to be done out of sight. In my role as security Minister, I have the genuine privilege to have some insight into that work and to see the professionalism, focus and drive that those people have in seeking to keep all of us safe. I entirely endorse the comments that the right hon. Gentleman made in that connection.

Let me deal with a number of the points that were flagged up. On Boko Haram, we have regular dialogue with the Government of Nigeria on a broad range of mutual terrorism concerns. The Nigerians have proscribed Boko Haram and are aware of our intention to do so.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) asked about the timing of the order being laid before the House tonight. The decisions on whether to proscribe a particular organisation are taken after careful consideration and in the light of emerging intelligence. It is important that such decisions should be built on a robust evidence base and that they should support other members of the international community in their fight against terrorism. It would be inappropriate for me to discuss specific intelligence matters, but I can assure her that these issues are carefully considered in this context, and in the context of our broader support for others around the world in their fight against international terrorism. I note the points that she has raised, however.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newark spoke of the need for balance and the need to ensure that, when we take action, we properly consider individual freedoms as against the need for collective security. Sometimes the challenges might be pushed in one direction or the other, but I am clear that they should be mutually reinforcing. If we are to uphold our values and traditions, and uphold who we are as a country, we must ensure that we properly respect individual freedoms and liberties while providing collective security for the country as a whole.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North asked about Hizb ut-Tahrir. That organisation is not proscribed, and proscription could be considered only when the Home Secretary believed it to be involved in terrorism, as defined by the Terrorism Act 2000. However, I want to make it clear to the House that the Government have significant concerns about Hizb ut-Tahrir, and we will continue to monitor its activities closely. Such groups are not free to spread hatred and incite violence as they please. The police have comprehensive powers to take action under the criminal law to deal with people who incite hatred, and they will do so. We will seek to ensure that Hizb ut-Tahrir and groups like it cannot operate without challenge in public places in this country. We will not tolerate secret meetings behind closed doors on premises funded by the taxpayer, and we will ensure that civic organisations are made well aware of Hizb ut-Tahrir and groups like it, and of the names under which they operate and the ways in which they go about their business. It would not be right for me to comment on individual cases, but we keep all organisations of concern under review.

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The hon. Lady will be aware of the taskforce that the Prime Minister has set up to examine the further options that we can take in the context of preventing terrorism. We are looking again at how we might deal with groups that fall below the current threshold for proscription but none the less espouse extremist views.

Keith Vaz: Will the Minister tell the House how many times the taskforce has met?

James Brokenshire: The taskforce has met twice, and it has considered a wide range of issues. We are focused on taking action to build on the very good work of the Prevent strategy. An example is the work of Prevent co-ordinators in universities to provide support and advice and to highlight understanding of the potential of extremist groups to operate on university campuses. The Prime Minister made it clear in his statement on the matter that he wants to examine all the issues closely to determine what further work and action could and should be undertaken. That work is progressing, and I am sure that the Prime Minister will continue to update the House on the work of the taskforce.

Let me address the point raised by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North about the People’s Mujahedeen Organisation of Iran. That organisation was proscribed in 2001 and was de-proscribed in June 2008, following the judgments of the Proscribed Organisations Appeals Commission and the Court of Appeal. An appeals process can be undertaken in respect of a proscribed organisation.

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I should perhaps have underlined in my initial response to the Chairman of the Select Committee that proscribed organisations are kept under constant review. There is a rolling 12-month basis on which those organisations are reviewed by a group that draws in experts from across government. It is not the case that an organisation that has been proscribed would have to stay proscribed, as there is an ongoing process. I am sorry if he was not satisfied with my initial response to him. The work I highlighted related to how to ensure that the process of the annual reviews and what they produce can be strengthened and developed further to give greater assurance in respect of some of the issues that he highlighted.

In conclusion, I would like to thank all right hon. and hon. Members for their considered comments. I believe that the proscription of Boko Haram will demonstrate our condemnation of that group’s activities. Proscribing it will also enable the police to carry out disruptive action against any of its supporters in the UK and ensure that they cannot operate here. The proscription of Minbar Ansar Deen will be a powerful tool for the police to help them successfully disrupt the organisation, and it will also send a powerful message that the promotion and encouragement of terrorism are not acceptable and that we will take action against organisations that partake in such activities.

On the basis of those comments, I hope that the House will support the actions proposed by the Government, and I commend the order to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That the draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) Order 2013, which was laid before this House on 8 July, be approved.

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London Local Authorities and Transport for London (No. 2) Bill [Lords]

Consideration of Bill, as amended in Committee

Clause 3

Appointed day

6.58 pm

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): I beg to move amendment 1.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): With this, it will be convenient to discuss amendments 2 to 9 and 20.

Mr Chope: It gives me great pleasure to move amendment 1 and to discuss the other amendments in the group. I begin by paying tribute to the promoters, who said earlier today that two of my amendments in a subsequent group will be accepted, and I think that is a perfect answer to all those people who look askance at Members of this House who force debates on issues such as this and table amendments. The promoters have, by their actions, demonstrated the worthwhile nature of that behaviour.

The concerns of my hon. Friends lie in trying to find out more about the proposals before us and ensuring that the same standards of high-quality legislation are applied to private legislation as are applied to normal public legislation. I shall refer to some examples later and I hope that the House will agree that there are examples of legislative provisions that are too woolly or imprecise to deserve to be put on the statute book.

Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab): The critics to whom the hon. Gentleman refers have obviously never had the opportunity of being in the Chamber and listening to the amendments that he and his colleagues have tabled. They have clearly demonstrated their worth over many, many years.

Mr Chope: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I do not wish to crow, other than to say that it is important that just because a Bill is a private Bill it should not be subject to less scrutiny than a public Bill. As was said on Second Reading, why should a local authority impose a statutory regime in its area different from the national regime?

I am delighted to see the Minister, who will be able to respond to some of the concerns about why a regime for dealing with skips different from the regime that applies elsewhere in the country that has to be introduced private legislation rather than through a public Bill promoted by the Government.

Before I get too distracted from the subject matter of the amendments, I should say that amendments 1 and 2, which can be considered together, are an example of why the Bill is unnecessarily complex. The Bill applies to the whole of London other than the City of London, yet it is proposed that its provisions should be brought in at different times in different areas. If we are to have a regime for skips, for example, in London, surely the changes should apply to the whole of London at the same time rather than piecemeal. Yet clause 3(2) states:

“Different days may be fixed under this section for the purpose of the application of the provisions mentioned in section 1(3) to different areas.”

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Likewise, clause 3(3) states:

“Different days may be fixed under this section for the purpose of the application of the provisions mentioned in section 1(3) to an area.”

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): I understand my hon. Friend’s point. Is it possible that what he mentions is done to enable authorities to trial something, to make sure that the system works efficiently and properly before extending it? If that is true, is it not sensible?

Mr Chope: It may be that my hon. Friend, as so often, anticipates the response to come from my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), who speaks on behalf of the promoters. We shall have to wait and see. On the face of it, the issue is worthy of an explanation. If the legislation is untried and experimental, that should be clearly set out in the Bill.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): Might not confusion result from the fact that measures are to be introduced on different days in different parts of London? I might not be as generous in my thinking as my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), but could that not be a deliberate ploy to try to confuse people and set up a money-making racket?

Mr Chope: It could be, but I am not going to try to follow my hon. Friend by making accusations against the promoters or London authorities by suggesting that the Bill is designed to confuse and ensure that they can get more in penalty income than they might otherwise be able to. Again, the fact that my hon. Friend raises that as an issue demonstrates the climate of suspicion regarding a lot of local authorities in relation to the imposition of penalty charges, which I recall from having read an article are now giving hundreds of millions of pounds in income to London local authorities alone. Many people feel those measures were brought in almost by subterfuge through Bills such as the one we are considering tonight, and now many years later people can see that has resulted in a significant financial burden and quite a lot of injustice. That is why I think it would be better to have simplicity and clarity, which would require that any provisions in this Bill be introduced in all areas of London at the same time on the same day, rather than causing the confusion to which I have referred.

Philip Davies: I just wonder whether my hon. Friend’s amendment will achieve what he seeks. Are these parts of the Bill making something clear to people, rather than being a necessary part of the Bill? Even if my hon. Friend’s amendments were accepted, would it not still be possible for these measures to be introduced on different days? I am not entirely sure where it is made clear they would have to be on a specific day. Are these two parts of the Bill just making something clear to people?

Mr Chope: My hon. Friend raises another point that I had not thought about, which is that these subsections may be superfluous anyway and it is implicit within the powers being given under clause 3 that an appointed day could be a different day for different parts of London in different circumstances, in which case, in trying to keep legislation simple there would be another argument in favour of accepting my amendments 1 and 2, as in leaving out subsections (2) and (3) of

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clause 3, they would make the Bill clearer. We will have to wait to hear the response to the debate before assessing whether these amendments are of such significance that we would seek to divide the House on them. Speaking for myself, I think it would be reasonable to await the full explanation before rushing to judgment.

Amendment 3 is significant. It is the first of the amendments addressing part 2 of the Bill, and clause 4 in particular, which deals with the attachment of street lamps and signs to buildings, and changing the regulations relating thereto. At present, the regime is pretty restricted under the highways legislation, but this Bill seeks to give much wider powers to local authorities, enabling them to permit the attachment of street lamps and signs to buildings even when that is not approved or supported by the owners of those buildings. This power is potentially quite significant, because the owner of a building could suddenly find they are required to have a street lamp or sign attached to their building.

We know from earlier stages of the Bill that the Society of London Theatre was very concerned about the impact of the measure on theatreland, and it is to the credit of the promoters that they decided that they would therefore exempt theatres, which is why clause 4(14) specifically states:

“This section and section 5 shall not apply in respect of a theatre.”

In a few moments I will talk about amendment 4, which follows on from that. Amendment 3, however, deals with subsection (13), which states:

“A London authority may not, under section 3, appoint a day for the purposes of this section until a code of practice dealing with the exercise of the powers of the said section 45 and the said section 74 as modified by this section has been published by a joint committee.”

My amendment would ensure that the code of practice must not only be published by a Joint Committee but be approved by the Secretary of State for Transport—an appropriate and proportionate safeguard.

Mr Nuttall: Amendment 3 specifically suggests that the approval of the Secretary of State for Transport should be sought. My limited understanding of these things is that the normal practice is to specify “the Secretary of State” and leave the actual office open. Perhaps my hon. and learned Friend would like to expand on why he has specified the Secretary of State for Transport.

Mr Chope: I am not learned in any sense of the term, but this amendment has been selected and I thought that rather than just referring to “the Secretary of State” it would more appropriate if it specified the Secretary of State for Transport. If the Minister wishes to intervene to suggest that it should be the responsibility of a different member of the Government, so be it. The point I am trying to make is that this is a significant issue. It is recognised by the promoters as sufficiently serious in its potential implications as to mean there should be a code of practice to deal with the exercise of the powers. The code should go further, in the sense that it should be approved by the Secretary of State for Transport. It would be unreasonable to expect this code to have to be approved by this House, through a statutory

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instrument, but it is reasonable to say that there should be a safeguard and that the Government can ensure that the code of practice accords with what is reasonable and proportionate. The Secretary of State for Transport could then be held accountable by this House for approving a code of practice if it did not meet the reasonable conditions we think ought to apply.

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend comes at this with far more expertise and knowledge than I do, because whereas I never have been and never will be a Minister, he has been—indeed, he was in the then Department of Transport. Will he therefore outline how he would expect the Secretary of State to take on this responsibility? Would it just be a meaningless rubber-stamping exercise?

Mr Chope: Whether it was a meaningless rubber-stamping exercise or something of substance would depend very much on the Minister. Although we would say that the code would be approved by the Secretary of State for Transport, in practice it would be brought before a more junior Minister, who would carry out the approval in the name of the Secretary of State. It is not for me to comment on the assiduous way in which various junior Ministers operate, but I have no doubt that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond), would be extremely assiduous if he was the Minister charged with this responsibility. The paper would be put before him by his officials and he would ask probing questions, perhaps on an iterative basis, whereby it might take a few days or weeks before the matter went through. He would take the responsibility seriously and examine the code, raising any concerns he had and suggesting any modifications that he wanted to have.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Stephen Hammond): My hon. Friend rightly says that I would be entirely assiduous should this onerous burden be placed upon me, as I am with any such instrument; I carefully read these things and scrutinise them. I can tell him that the Government’s view, having examined the amendment, is that there would be no need for the Secretary of State to approve the code of practice; the code could stand by itself.

7.15 pm

Mr Chope: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the first part of his remarks and I hope that in due course we can explore further the second part, in which he said that there was no need for the code of practice to be approved and that it could stand by itself. Quite, but would it not be an additional safeguard to ensure that it received the approval of the Government rather than just a Joint Committee, as suggested? I shall leave the matter there and we can perhaps explore it in due course.

Amendment 4 would add a new subsection after clause 4(14) so that clauses 4 and 5 would

“not apply in respect of any building in a conservation area.”

The provisions already exclude any application to listed buildings and, as we have discussed, theatres, but a building in a conservation area has traditionally enjoyed the same protection as a listed building outside a conservation area. The essence of a conservation area is

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that all the buildings should be considered together in the context of the local environment. One might be concerned that if a lot of street lamps and signs were attached to buildings in a conservation area, that could detract from the character of the area quite significantly. My challenge to the Minister in responding to the debate is that if it is reasonable to exempt listed buildings from clause 4, why has that not also been extended to buildings in conservation areas?

The next amendment in the group comes under the category of bad drafting and an attempt to take extremely wide powers. Amendment 5 would amend clause 5(4)(b), which deals with the serving of notices under clause 4 on people who would be affected by the application of the clause on the attachment of street lamps and signs to buildings. It states:

“If, for the purposes of serving a notice…the name or address of the relevant owner cannot be ascertained after reasonable enquiry, the notice…may be served by…addressing it to him by name or by the description of “owner” of the land (describing it)”.

That is probably similar to a lot of the letters one gets through one’s letterbox addressed to “The Owner” and asking, “Have you thought of selling your house or letting it through some great agents?” It would seem to be perfectly reasonable. Alternatively, one could leave

“it in the hands of a person who is”

on the land as a

“resident or employed on the land or leaving it conspicuously affixed to some building or object on or near the land.”

That is a standard way of serving notices, by affixing them to a property. Giving it to a person who is resident is fine, but what concerns me is how we are to judge whether to give a formal notice to somebody who “appears to be” the resident. That is such a large loophole. Anybody could say, “I saw somebody there, they appeared to be the resident, I served notice on them. I don’t know who they were, I didn’t ask them any questions, but they appeared to be the resident.” That is granting a power that is far too wide—unnecessarily so—and could undermine the whole purpose of the clause, which is intended to ensure the reasonable service of notices and that the owner or resident of affected premises should receive the proper notice. I look forward to hearing from my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East on how we will judge whether people appear to be resident, and why it is necessary to have this extraordinarily wide power, which allows a notice to be left with somebody who appears to be resident; implicit in that is the idea that they may not be resident.

Philip Davies: I totally agree with my hon. Friend; this is a ludicrous state of affairs. Also, the Bill says “appears to be resident”—appears to whom? A person may appear to be resident to someone who is issuing a notice, but there is no regard to whether anybody else would think that the person was resident. Is this a good enough test?

Mr Chope: Exactly. My hon. Friend makes a very good point.

Clause 5(5) falls into the “ludicrous and superfluous” category. It says:

“This section shall not be taken to exclude the employment of any method of service not expressly provided for by it”,

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but of course the clause is only permissive; subsection (1) says that a notice

“may be served by post.”

What does clause 5(5) add to the statute book, other than completely superfluous wording? I would have thought it a statement of the obvious. Do we really need to include on the statute book lots of statements of the obvious, like this one? Amendment 6 would therefore leave it out.

Jim Fitzpatrick: The hon. Gentleman is making a strong argument for the amendment. If I heard him correctly, he said that he had received an indication that some of his amendments may be accepted by the sponsor. Is this amendment one of those that he anticipates being acceptable to the sponsor?

Mr Chope: I hope so, but I have not yet received formal notice about this amendment. The two amendments about which I have received formal notice are in the second group, and I will not go into those now. From the hon. Gentleman’s comments, it seems that he is supportive of the amendment—I am not sure whether he is referring to amendment 5 or 6; perhaps he could indicate that more clearly.

Jim Fitzpatrick: I was not indicating whether we supported or opposed the amendment; all I was saying was that the hon. Gentleman was making a strong argument.

Mr Chope: The hon. Gentleman suddenly seems rather nervous about committing himself. I am grateful to him for acknowledging the strength of the argument, even if that is not carried forward into support in the Lobby.

Philip Davies: On amendment 6, which would leave out subsection (5), has my hon. Friend had any thoughts about what might be included in those other methods of service? Might they include notices being served by e-mail, or by some other electronic means? If so, does he support that?

Mr Chope: I find that a rather testing intervention, because I am rather against the idea of using e-mails to serve notices. From my limited experience of receiving and sending e-mails, I think it is often not clear whether they have reached their destination or got lost in the ether. Quite a lot of mine seem to go into something—I cannot remember what it is called—

Philip Davies: Spam.

Mr Chope: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. They go into the spam folder, so they are effectively never received, because they are automatically deleted—or they certainly are on my computer, but I do not want to be drawn into that issue. The promoters may have it in mind that they could serve notices in that way to anybody who appeared to be resident, but I do not know how they would find out how to do that. I look forward to hearing from the sponsor on that point.

One of the reasons why it can be frustrating for people following private legislation is that during the Committee stage of a Bill which is the subject of a petition it is not possible to go into the detail of the drafting, unless a petitioner has expressed concern about it or members of the Bill Committee take an interest

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and ask the promoters what a particular clause or subsection means. When the Bill comes back to the House on Report, it is often the first chance that we have to examine the wording and why the promoters consider it necessary.

Clause 6 deals with damage to highways as a consequence of adjacent works. It provides that

“The 1980 Act shall apply in Greater London as though for section 133 (damage to footways of streets by excavations) and its heading there were substituted—

Damage to highway by carrying out of works”.

The current wording of clause 6 is:

“If a highway maintainable at the public expense is damaged by or in consequence of any works on land adjacent to the highway, the highway authority for the highway may make good the damage”.

The effect of my amendment 7 would be that the highway authority “shall make good” the damage, because the highway authority has the ultimate responsibility for ensuring the integrity of the highway. I declare an interest as the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on highways maintenance. We had a meeting today to discuss the fraught issue of highway maintenance, the number of potholes that there are, and the rather varied performance of local authorities up and down the country in addressing the problems caused by deteriorating road surfaces and the creation of potholes.

Most people say that it should be the responsibility of the highway authority to put the road back into good order if that is what has happened. Amendment 7 would make it mandatory for the highway authority to make good the damage, and amendment 8 would enable the highway authority to recover the expenses reasonably incurred by it in so doing.

Philip Davies: May we stick to amendment 7 for the time being? I agree with my hon. Friend’s general premise. Motorists get a raw deal in this country, considering the amount of tax that they pay. Might the amendment lead to a perverse situation where the damage may be minor, yet the local authority would be forced to carry out work, which may be considered disproportionate? Might that be an unintended consequence of my hon. Friend’s amendment?

Mr Chope: That could well be an unintended consequence—

Philip Davies: Or an intended consequence.

Mr Chope: I do not think it would be an intended consequence. I concede that my hon. Friend may have got me on that. Essentially, the question is whether we would describe minor damage as being covered by the amendment, or whether we are talking about significant damage. I drafted my amendment on the basis that we are talking about damage of such significance that it should be made good. We know that an unevenness on the road surface may soon deteriorate when heavy vehicles go over it or when it is subject to water penetration. What might start off as relatively minor damage may, if not addressed in timely fashion, become a significant pothole and a hazard to road users. My hon. Friend makes a good point, but I do not think that it really counters the general thrust of amendment 7, which is to

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try to ensure that the highway authority takes responsibility for making good any damage caused by works adjacent to the road.

7.30 pm

The penultimate amendment in this group is amendment 9, which—

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend, rather uncharacteristically, is rushing through his amendments and catching me out as a result. To return to amendment 8, which would insert the word “may”, is he indicating that clause 6, as drafted, would force the highway authority to recover the expenses? Is the purpose of his amendment to allow some flexibility?

Mr Chope: Yes. If we were to leave out “may” and insert “shall”, as amendment 7 proposes, but not make amendment 8, obviously the highway authority would be required to make good the damage and be forced to recover the expenses reasonably incurred. I do not think that it would be sensible to oblige a highway authority under the terms of a statute to recover the expenses, which might prove difficult. It would be better to say that it “may” recover the expenses, which is why amendment 8 seeks to insert “may” in front of the word “recover” in the provision. That way, the highway authority would have a responsibility to make good any damage caused to the highway by adjacent works, but it would have discretion over whether or not to seek to recover the resulting expenses. I hope that is clear.

Philip Davies: It is clear, but I wonder whether my hon. Friend could expand a little on why he thinks the highway authority should not recover the expenses reasonably incurred.

Mr Chope: In a sense, that is the other side of the coin my hon. Friend has just used. The answer is that it might not be worth the candle. Why should we force a local authority to try to recover a relatively small sum when the cost of doing so could be disproportionate? That is the best answer I can give to the good point he makes.

Let me turn to amendment 9. This is another example of where the Bill’s drafting is unnecessarily wide. If a highway is damaged as a result of adjacent works, surely the person responsible for paying to repair it should be

“(b) the person carrying out the works; or

(c) the person on whose behalf the works were carried out.”

Why should

“(a) the owner of the land in question”

be the subject of the recovery of expenses if he neither carried out the works nor had the works carried out on his behalf? That seems unnecessarily oppressive, because the owner of the land might know nothing whatsoever about the work being carried out or any damage resulting from it. That incorporates a provision of strict liability in circumstances in which I do not think it is reasonable.

That is why I have tabled amendment 9, which would leave out subsection (a) and ensure that the expenses reasonably incurred could be recovered from the person who carried out the works or the person on whose behalf the works were carried out. That might often be the owner. However, if that person was not the owner, he would not and could not be liable. I look forward to

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hearing from the promoters of the Bill why they think it is reasonable to expect the owner of the land to be liable in the circumstances that I have described.

Mr Nuttall: Is my hon. Friend aware of the definition of “owner”? Is it a leasehold-owner or someone who owns the freehold?

Mr Chope: My hon. Friend makes another good point. I do not know. The explanatory notes define “owner” in relation to part 3, but he is asking about part 2. That is perhaps an omission. There may be more than one owner. As he suggests, they may be a leasehold-owner, a freeholder, or, indeed, a sub-lessee. That is a reasonable point of inquiry. It might also be another reason why leaving out any reference to an owner would be the best way forward for the promoters of the Bill.

Amendment 20 is in the same group, which is headed “Highways and general”—“general” in this case. It relates to part 4, which has only one clause—clause 15, on the subject of gated roads, which says:

“Any person who opens, closes or otherwise operates or interferes with a relevant barrier without lawful excuse shall be guilty of an offence and liable, on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale…In subsection (1) a ‘relevant barrier’ means any barrier lawfully placed in, or over a highway by or on behalf of a traffic authority in London for the purpose of preventing or restricting the passage of vehicles or any class of vehicles into, out of, or along a highway.”

My amendment 20 would leave out all that. If we are to have specific legislation creating a criminal offence for people who open, close or otherwise interfere with such barriers, it should introduce that offence right across the country rather than in a particular part of it. I have no evidence to suggest that there is a bigger problem relating to gated roads in London than anywhere else.

Furthermore, introducing specific offences litters the statute book of criminal law with rather a lot of unnecessary trivia. In this case, if somebody goes along to a barrier and cuts off the padlock or forces it open in some way, they will be guilty of criminal damage, which is obviously already an offence in criminal law. The provision would potentially criminalise somebody who might open a barrier because it was not locked and then find themselves guilty of an offence.

Philip Davies: I agree with my hon. Friend wholeheartedly. Does he agree that there may well be a perfectly good, legitimate reason for somebody to do that if it is to preserve their health and safety or for other emergency purposes, and yet the provision does not give any wide-ranging exemptions for such people?

Mr Chope: Absolutely. The clause refers to anyone who

“interferes with a relevant barrier without lawful excuse”,

which raises all sorts of questions regarding how to avoid the build-up of congestion caused by an accident or another incident such as a fire. If somebody says, “We need to open this barrier so that the traffic can flow more freely,” they might—unless they are authorised by the local authority—find themselves guilty of an offence. It seems to be a totally disproportionate response to the problem that the Bill’s promoters say exists.

I have seen no evidence of how many occasions gated roads have been opened, closed or otherwise interfered with by people to the detriment of the local authority.

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As I said at the outset, if there is a problem surely it would be better dealt with under the Traffic Regulation Act 1984, which relates to all authorities, not just those in London.

Rather earlier than some might have anticipated, I have reached the end of my introduction to the amendments, to which I have tried to speak in a constructive way. This is not an exercise in trying to prevent a Bill from making progress; it is an exercise in trying to ensure that the legislation that we put on the statute book is clear beyond peradventure and of sufficiently high quality to merit inclusion. It is very difficult to put these things right after the event, and on too many occasions in the past local authorities and Transport for London have been given wide powers that were not sufficiently explored beforehand, to the detriment of the general public. That is why, on behalf of road users and residents in London—I declare an interest as the owner of freehold property in London—I propose these amendments. I hope that the Bill’s promoters will address them as constructively as they have agreed to address at least two of the amendments in the next group.


Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) for tabling these various amendments in, I trust, a spirit of exploring the intentions of the Bill’s promoters. I trust that my explanations will be sufficient for him not to press them to a vote. The Bill has been subject to a great deal of scrutiny both in this House and in the other place, so I will confine my remarks to the amendments.

I gleaned from my hon. Friend’s remarks that he tabled amendments 1 and 2 because he wants an explanation, not because he wants to press them to a vote. They relate to the commencement date for the regulations on lamps and signage. The Bill’s promoters across London are very keen for ultimate flexibility as to when the regulations should be introduced. The amendments would constrain London authorities to introduce them all on the same day across London, which would be draconian. The purpose of this part of the Bill is to say that there will be a need for lamps and signage to be restricted, but at different times for different authorities. That does not alter the fact that authorities have to advertise and give notice of their wish to introduce these schemes, but they do not have to introduce them in the same way right across London.

Mr Nuttall: Will my hon. Friend give the House one or two examples of the sorts of signs and effects that would alter traffic systems?

7.45 pm

Bob Blackman: There will be times when signage or lamps are required, possibly on a temporary basis, and therefore one needs to introduce them, and give notice of that, and then take them away again. Those signs might be for emergency roadworks, or a particular purpose such as special events that take place in London. There are regularly demonstrations and road closures for special events, and it would be foolish to have those signs unnecessarily in operation throughout London and the affected areas. I trust that that provides a suitable explanation. It does not change the fact that local authorities must still advertise the reason for lamps and signage, as is wholly appropriate.

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Amendment 3 suggests that after the Localism Act 2011, which enables local authorities to take many actions themselves, and after devolving power to London, we suddenly drag power back to the Secretary of State to force the Minister—or someone else—to consider the minutiae of things that go on in London. To me that seems to be overkill, and it does not take place in any other part of the country. The Secretary of State and Ministers have plenty to do without considering the minutiae of a code of practice that London local authorities will come together and agree, cross-party and for the good of all Londoners and London. I trust that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch will accept that such things are best kept to a local level, rather than involving the Government. I understand that the Government have not stated that they want to interfere in such a process, and I am sure the Minister will confirm that in due course.

Mr Chope: Is not the point that provision is already set out in the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 to deal with such issues? That is national legislation but the Bill seeks to modify it for London. My amendment would ensure that there is a proper safeguard for that proposed modification for London through the Secretary of State. My hon. Friend refers to localism, but surely such things should apply equally to all local authorities, not just those that bring forward Bills such as this.

Stephen Hammond: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr Chope: I am making an intervention.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): The Minister is getting carried away. He cannot intervene on someone who is already intervening. I think we have got the message for Bob Blackman to respond.

Bob Blackman: Does the Minister wish to intervene?

Mr Hammond: Wearily he climbs. Let me try and clear up this point. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) that it should not be for the Government to consider the minutiae of things, but I suspect that the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) is not actually intra vires or workable. This is a Transport for London Bill, and therefore the code of practice would be incumbent on those in control of Transport for London. Transport for London is devolved to London, and such matters would be for it, and the Mayor to consider, not the Secretary of State. I therefore suggest that the amendment is completely unworkable.

Bob Blackman: I thank the Minister for that helpful intervention. Amendment 4 would mean that local authorities could not put up lamps and signs in a conservation area without consent. The problem is that councils already have the power to do that, although they must obtain the consent of the owner of the building. This is a decluttering measure; the idea behind these provisions is to remove the clutter of road signs and signage that appears all over London, which most of us Londoners recognise as disastrous. The amendment would restrict the ability of local authorities to declutter

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conservation areas and put up appropriate signs, although that ability is what most people want to see. Finally, the provisions in question, including those on conservation areas, were proposed by English Heritage. I bow to its expertise in wishing to pursue them.

Amendment 5 deals with notices. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch made several points about people who appear to be residents or are employed on the land in question. The point is that notices would be served on such people if the local authority had been unable to ascertain the name or address of the owner of the premises. The provision in the Bill retains flexibility and is exactly the same as that in section 53 of the Crossrail Act 2008 and many other pieces of Government legislation. It is entirely consistent with previous legislation, so I strongly resist removing it.

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend is doing a good job of explaining the position. However, if I heard him correctly, he said that handing over a notice would be a last resort. Will he at least accept that the Bill does not actually say that?

Bob Blackman: It is clearly incumbent on the local authority to make every effort to establish the name and owner of a building, and it would be sensible for it to do that. However, in London in particular, there is often a freeholder, a leaseholder and maybe a sub-leaseholder, and the ownership and responsibility may be confused. The provision is about giving a notice setting out what is going to be done to the outside of a building. That is not particularly draconian, but it is clearly required. A local authority frequently goes through a set of procedures to make such things happen. It would be draconian to frustrate its ability to provide signage or lamps that are wholly consistent with the general requirements of TfL or London local authorities.

Amendment 6 would remove the provision allowing local authorities to use any other existing general powers to serve notice. Councils have a power to do so under section 233 of the Local Government Act 1972, and that power is enshrined in the Bill. The effect of the amendment would be to remove that capability under the 1972 Act. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch may have difficulties with that Act, but this is not the right place to express them.

Mr Nuttall: On that basis, if local authorities already have the power to serve notices, I am not quite sure what the purpose of clause 5(5) is.

Bob Blackman: It just reinforces and restates existing legislation, and I think it is sensible to have the relevant legislation all in one place so that people can understand everything that applies. The subsection is nothing new and does not amend the 1972 Act. That Act has gone through many changes, through London Acts and so on, so it is sensible to retain the subsection.

Mr Chope: My hon. Friend says that the subsection just restates the existing law in section 233 of the 1972 Act. That section applies throughout the country, so why is it necessary to reapply an existing provision in a local Act? Why do we need clause 5(5) at all? He says that it is useful to have everything in one piece of legislation, but that provision is already in the 1972 Act.

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Unless there is something in the subsection that adds to or subtracts from section 233 of that Act, what is the point of having it? How can that be good legislation?

Bob Blackman: For clarity and continuity it is sensible to restate, not change, the position that already exists. There is nothing new in clause 5(5), but if I were reading the Bill, I would want to know that there was complete clarity about its purpose.

Amendments 7 to 9 deal with cost and repair. There is nothing more frustrating for people than to see a development cause damage to a public highway, and for there then to be a lack of clarity about who will fix it. This is a problem in large parts of London. However, the effect of the amendments will possibly not be what my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch intends. The local authority has a clear duty to maintain the highway so that it is in a good state of repair. In many parts of London it is not in a good state of repair. Where a developer or someone acting on behalf of an owner has caused damage, it is clear that the first option should be for the developer to repair the damage it has caused. Amendment 7 would remove the obligation on the developer to fix the damage it has caused and put the onus completely on the local authority to obtain the funding from the developer or the owner affected. This is, therefore, an unwanted measure.

Existing national legislation is worded in exactly the same way as the proposed legislation. Amendment 7 would place London local authorities in a worse position than the local authority in, for example, Christchurch. I do not see any reason why London authorities should be placed in a worse position than authorities outside London. The position should be consistent for all three amendments: the first call is for the developer to fix the problem it has caused. If it does not fix it, then the local authority should step in, make good the damage, and charge the people who caused the damage in the first place. In all these cases, this is entirely consistent with national legislation. The obligation to fix it should be on the people who caused the damage.

Mr Chope: The explanatory memorandum states that

“Clause 6 would replace section 133 with provisions for London that would enable the highway authority to recover their expenses of remedying such damage to any part of the highway, not just the footway.”

That seems to be what is being changed, rather than the means by which the damages can be recovered. Does my hon. Friend accept that there is a lot of rather superfluous wording, if the purpose is just to be able to extend an existing power from the footway to the whole of the highway?

Bob Blackman: The key point is who repairs the damage initially, or how the money is recovered. The point is that it should be the developer who causes the damage—frequently, heavy lorries delivering goods to a site cause damage to the highway as well the footway—who repairs it first. If they do not repair it, then the local authority steps in, makes good the damage, serves a notice and recovers the money. Unfortunately, the effect of all three amendments would remove the position of the developer doing any work at all, and put the onus fairly and squarely on the highways authority to make good and then try to recover the costs. That would be terribly frustrating for all concerned.

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Mr Nuttall: I am not sure that I entirely agree with that interpretation. All that the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) seek to do is move the word “may” from line 30 to line 31. At the moment it states:

“may make good the damage and recover the expenses”.

If amendments 7 and 8 were accepted it would state:

“shall make good the damage and may recover the expenses”.

In both cases, the “may” would apply to the question of the recovering of expenses.

Bob Blackman: I thank my hon. Friend for that point, but that is completely the wrong way around. The polluter should pay. The developer who has caused the damage should pay. The point is this: whether they repair it themselves to the required standard of the highways authority or whether the highways authority makes good and then charges is a matter for the local authority. That is certainly something that they should be doing. Certainly, they should not expect the council tax payer or general taxpayer to fund the repair of damage caused by a developer, but, if the amendments were passed, the developer would be under no obligation to make good the damage and the local authority might be unable to recover the costs incurred, which would be a retrograde step.

8 pm

Mr Chope: I think we are at cross-purposes. My hon. Friend rightly said that the polluter should pay, but my concern is that if the polluter does not repair the damage to the highway, it might go unrepaired, unless my amendment 7 is carried, as it would require the local authority to repair the damage.

Bob Blackman: The highways authority already has a duty to keep the highways in good repair. As I read the amendment—I was only able to read it today—my concern is that it would not allow the developer to fix the problem.

Mr Chope: Yes, it would

Bob Blackman: No, it wouldn’t. It says that the local authority “shall” step in and do the work, irrespective. That wording is incorrect and is why I shall resist amendment 7, as well as amendments 8 and 9, which are all consequential amendments.

On amendment 20, London has many gates placed across roads to prevent the flow of traffic through residential communities. The roads are normally accessible by the emergency services—the fire brigade, ambulance service and police—and other appropriate authorities, but sometimes there is a severe problem. At the moment, if someone damages a gate, they can be held liable for criminal damage, but if they merely open the gate for their own convenience—to access the road or bypass a congested road—it defeats the purpose of that gate, which is to prevent large parts of London from being used as rat runs. The promoters therefore seek an enforcement option. If, on being directed by the emergency services, someone opened a gate, clearly they would not be guilty of an offence, but if they opened a gate for their own convenience—or for other people’s convenience,

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for joyriding or whatever—they would be guilty of an offence, and it would be up to the local authorities to enforce those actions.

I accept completely that there is an issue of interpretation around the reason for opening the gate, and there is always the potential for somebody to receive a penalty for incorrectly opening one, but it is entirely fair and proper to make it clear that people should not open one unless they have authority or good reason to believe that life or limb are in danger.

Philip Davies: I am not entirely sure that the matter is as clear-cut as my hon. Friend says. As I understand it, if someone is at a red traffic light, an emergency vehicle wishes to get through and that person moves through the red light to allow it through, they still can be, and in some cases have been, prosecuted for going through a red light. I fear that, under the clause, if somebody for a good, common sense, although perhaps not lawful reason, opened a gate to allow an emergency vehicle to get to the scene of an accident, they could still find themselves prosecuted, which surely cannot be anybody’s intention.

Bob Blackman: Clearly, this is a matter of interpretation. The purpose of placing barriers across a traffic highway is to prevent the incursion of normal vehicles, but I cannot envisage someone ever being prosecuted for opening a gate that is normally locked in order to give access to an ambulance, the police or the fire brigade. However, the promoters are keen to ensure that people understand that if they interfere with a locked gate that is there for the purpose of preventing traffic from passing through, that will be an offence and they can be prosecuted.

Mr Chope: Obviously we want to test out the new provision, because it would create a new criminal offence, so what about the following scenario? What if somebody finds that the gate is open and therefore closes it? Under the provisions we are discussing, they would be liable.

Bob Blackman: Having made something of a study of such gates in London over the years, I can say that they are almost all locked with padlocks—except where someone has stolen the padlock, in which chase the gate will often flip open and shut. Young people—in general it is young people—have a habit of occasionally using such gates as a form of entertainment. We need to make it clear that such gates are there for a purpose. This issue is a matter of interpretation. We are talking about gates being interfered with—that is, opened to allow the incursion of traffic.

Philip Davies: My earlier intervention fell on stony ground, so I will try from a different angle. My hon. Friend thinks that somebody in the scenario that I painted would not be prosecuted, but how about this scenario? What would happen if somebody refused to open the gate for an emergency vehicle in a desperate situation because they feared being prosecuted for contravening the law as it stands? Would that not be a shocking consequence of the proposal we are discussing?

Bob Blackman: It would be shocking; indeed, it would be shocking if the emergency services did not have the keys to access such a gate when they arrived at the

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scene, which in my experience they always do. To my knowledge—I will bow to anyone else’s superior knowledge—there has never been a situation where the emergency services required access to such a gate but were prevented because they were not carrying the keys.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Is it not also the case that the emergency services have a statutory power of entry when they are fulfilling their duties under the appropriate legislation?

Bob Blackman: I cannot imagine that anyone who was acting under the authority and direction of a member of the relevant services would be prosecuted for that.

In summary, on behalf of the promoters, I hope that I have given sufficient explanation to enable the mover of the amendment to withdraw it, rather than pressing it to a vote.

Mr Nuttall rose

Philip Davies rose—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): What a choice! I call Mr Nuttall.

Mr Nuttall: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. As always, it is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), who went through the amendments with his usual courtesy and in a good-natured and thoughtful way. I am extremely grateful for some of the explanations he gave. I am not entirely convinced by every one of them, as I will explain, but I am extremely grateful that he put forward the promoters’ case so eloquently on their behalf.

It has already been a long old road for this Bill, as I am sure my hon. Friend would agree. Only yesterday, when my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) and I noticed that it was up for debate this evening, I said, “I seem to recall that I might have spoken on Second Reading.” He said, “I think you did.” I said, “I can’t recall when that was.” He replied, “Oh, it was about March time,” so I went away and looked it up. I found that Second Reading did indeed take place about March time, but March last year—on 6 March 2012, to be precise.

The Bill has changed fairly substantially since it was first introduced in the other place. It has gradually shrunk in size, as clause after clause has been shed, for one reason or another. Members might well be wondering what has happened in the intervening period—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Well, let me help the hon. Gentleman. We are discussing the amendments, and we do not need to hear the history of the Bill prior to the amendments because, in fairness, the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) has already set out the subject very well. I know that the hon. Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) is desperate to speak only to the amendments.

Mr Nuttall: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am indeed. In one sentence, let me say that this is relevant because there was an opposed Committee meeting on 6 November last year that resulted in the Bill shrinking since the last time we discussed it, so we now have a different Bill—

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Mr Deputy Speaker: Don’t worry, I do not need to see the Bill shrinking before my eyes. All I want to hear being discussed are the amendments, and I know that that is all the hon. Gentleman is going to do. No more sentences; we are going to stick to the amendments.

Mr Nuttall: I was just finishing the sentence, Mr Deputy Speaker.

I shall start with amendments 1 and 2. I am surprised that only two of the amendments have been accepted by the promoters. As has already become evident, there are some good arguments for many of the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch. Amendments 1 and 2 deal with the starting dates. They are worth considering because it would make sense, if we are introducing new laws that will apply all across London, to have them start at the same time. I listened carefully to the argument put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East about the need for complete flexibility. He also suggested that it would be somewhat draconian to introduce new rules to be applied across London all at the same time. The other side to that argument is that, if the boroughs introduced the new rules on different dates—or even in different years—there could be confusion, to say the least, as to which boroughs had adopted a particular new rule and which had not.

Let us look at the details of clause 3(2) and (3). They imply that different start dates could be set even within the same borough. Subsection (2) states:

“Different days may be fixed under this section for the purposes of the application of the provisions mentioned in section 1(3) to different areas.”

I emphasise the words “to different areas”. The only way in which subsection (3) differs is in its final three words, which are “to an area”. It states:

“Different days may be fixed under this section for the purposes of the application of the provisions mentioned in section 1(3) to an area.”

I appreciate the comment made by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East that the signs could be put in place for temporary reasons, or to implement temporary traffic flow measures. Obviously, no one could possibly argue that that kind of sign should not be put up and then taken down again so as to suit the circumstances. However, I see no reason why that could not apply even if amendments 1 and 2 were accepted and those two subsections were left out of the Bill, which would be a sensible step to take.

Amendment 3 would add the words

“and approved by the Secretary of State for Transport”

to the end of clause 4(13). In an intervention, I said that I took issue to a small degree with my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch. First of all, by limiting the provision to the Secretary of State for Transport, there could be problems in the future if, for example, there were not a Secretary of State for Transport. Personally, I would prefer the description “the Secretary of State”. I heard the Minister say in an intervention that in any event, this matter should be dealt with by the Mayor of London, and there might well be some merit in that.

8.15 pm

Whichever road we go down, however, whether it be the Mayor of London or the Secretary of State, the point is that there needs to be some oversight,

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notwithstanding the arguments made very eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East on behalf of the promoters that this is a matter where localism should apply. In fact, I have some sympathy with that argument. I think there is a lot to be said for localism, but we have to be careful that localism is not taken a bit too far, so that we end up with one rule in one place that does not apply in another place. It understandably then starts to bring the law into disrepute as people become somewhat confused about what the law is.

If this amendment is accepted—we have yet to see the will of the House on it—I have absolutely no doubt that my hon. Friend the Minister will look at the code of conduct very carefully indeed, meticulously looking at its different aspects, and I have no doubt at all that he would make a good job of it. This code of conduct does not have to be a long matter, as we are not imposing a particularly onerous task on the Secretary of State.

Amendment 4 adds a new subsection (14A) to clause 4, stating:

“This section and section 5 shall not apply in respect of any building in a conservation area.”

I think this is a sensible measure.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East described the clause as “a decluttering exercise”, and I agree that there are far too many signs about, which is very confusing. I wholeheartedly support any measures to do with decluttering. I would be even more impressed, therefore, if clause 4 were headed “Removal of street lamps and signs to buildings” rather than “Attachments of street lamps and signs to buildings”, which suggests to me that the aim is not to remove the street lights or signs, but to make provision for them to be added to a building. As far as I can see, that is what the clause is about—the circumstances in which a sign can be added to a building; hence all the rules and regulations about serving a notice before such action is taken. I am not entirely convinced. There might well be some ideas about how to get rid of the superfluous signs that clutter up our streetscapes around London. As I say, however, I would be more impressed if there were some evidence of that on the face of the Bill.

Jim Fitzpatrick: The hon. Gentleman says that he is not convinced by the arguments of his hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), who I think said that many of the decluttering proposals were being supported, indeed perhaps even sponsored, by English Heritage. Is the hon. Gentleman thus not only unconvinced, but confused that English Heritage is putting forward these proposals that are about trying to declutter our streets?

Mr Nuttall: What I cannot understand is why we would need legislation to remove a sign. I understand why legislation is needed to put a sign up, but I am not aware that once a sign is up legislation is required to remove it; someone could just go and take it down. I would be interested to know from others whether I am right. Perhaps after a certain period, a sign acquires some sort of importance. If it is attached to a listed building, it might become part of the listing. However, there is no evidence in the Bill that that is intended. There is merit in saying that special provisions should apply to the effect that clause 4 should not apply to any building in a conservation area.

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Amendment 5 deals with a

“notice served under section 4(4), (8) or (11)(a).”

Such notices can be served in a number of ways. I leave aside the irrelevance of the whole clause; we will come to that in a moment. Clause 5(4) states that the notice could be left

“in the hands of a person who is…resident…employed on the land or leaving it conspicuously affixed to some building or object on or near the land”

or with someone who “appears to be resident”.

I have personal experience of doing the job. When I was first employed as a trainee legal executive, part of my role was to go to far-flung parts of Sheffield to serve such notices. I have done the job and know the problems of serving notices and trying to find somewhere suitable to fix them. I can imagine the situations that may arise when some poor council official is faced with being sent out on a rainy Friday morning to some distant part of London to try to serve a notice.

We need to consider the purpose of serving the notice. It is to ensure that a person affected by this legislation knows what is about to happen. The problem with clause 5(4) is that a notice can be given to someone who just “appears to be resident”. They might not be resident; they might be passing through or cleaning the windows. Some owners clean their own windows, while others employ people to do it. The person serving the notice might easily leave it with someone who they genuinely thought lived there, but that person might stuff it in their pocket without thinking twice.

I will not detain the House any further on this matter, but there is clearly scope for the four words in amendment 5 to be taken out of clause 5(4). The clause would be much better without them.

Amendment 6 would remove an even more bizarre subsection:

“This section shall not be taken to exclude the employment of any method of service not expressly provided for by it.”

In other words all the mentions of methods of serving a notice, such as by post, or sending it to an address that has been given or to a limited company, or, as I have just mentioned, of actually going and giving it to a person—an employee, perhaps—or putting it on an object nearby or on to the building, can be left aside and people can do whatever they like. They can just turn up, perhaps, or put it in a hot air balloon and hope it will drift by, and say, “Well, that was the method I thought of. It wasn’t a very good one, but this doesn’t exclude the employment of any method, so I thought of that. A colleague tried to convince me it should be a carrier pigeon, but I thought a balloon would be a good idea.” This is just nonsense.

My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) rightly brought up the question of e-mail. Subsection (5) may well be intended to provide for the use of e-mail, in which I case I would say that that is fine and in the modern world there is nothing wrong with serving notices by e-mail. Bearing in mind the long gestation of this Bill, however, I cannot understand why that is not expressly set out in it, if that is what the promoters had in mind.

Amendments 7 and 8 are best dealt with together. The issue in question is slightly confusing because it all revolves around the words “may” and “shall”. As we

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heard in the exchanges that took place a few moments ago, the interpretation of this clause is everything, really. The whole essence of the amendments of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch is simply to make things clear. As the clause is drafted, the authority might make good the damage, but they might not. My hon. Friend’s amendment makes it the case that the highway “shall” be repaired. I appreciate the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East about that imposing an obligation on authorities, but I would have thought that they would want to see the highway properly maintained for a number of reasons, first from the point of view of their residents and secondly from the point of view of risk reduction. As we all know, it is a very costly exercise for local authorities not properly to maintain the highway, so I would have thought that they would in any event want to make good any damage caused by a contractor, and I see no problem with replacing “may” with “shall” or with moving the word “may” to before the word “recover” so that they may recover the expenses. It may well be that they will do that in every single case, so in 100% of cases they will have the right to go and recover the expenses from the contractor, but that does no more than the clause as drafted does. It already says that they may make good the damage and recover the expenses, so it implies that they may not. I cannot see why this amendment cannot be accepted.

Amendment 9 is very well thought out. I understand the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East made on behalf of the promoters, which was that they understandably want to recover the costs they have incurred, but I cannot understand why they should try to recover them from somebody who may have nothing to do with the damage caused. It makes sense to recover the costs from whoever has caused the damage, on the “polluter pays” principle—I entirely agree with that. However, simply saying that they should have the right to recover them from the owner of the land, without any explanation as to how the owner may be identified—without saying whether it is the freeholder, the leaseholder, the sub-lessee or the tenant—creates a lawyer’s paradise, a description I shall use in relation to amendment 20. I can just imagine the length of the litigation that might ensue from this provision were it allowed to remain in the Bill, so I strongly support amendment 9.

8.30 pm

Amendment 20, the last in the group, relates to gated roads and clause 15. I was going to inquire what specific problem the clause was intended to remedy, but I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch for explaining at length what the problem was. The further he went with his explanation, the more obvious the problem became. I understand that it is a serious problem. These gates are clearly there for a reason—to prevent vehicles from using routes as rat runs.

However, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East went on to say that this is a matter of interpretation. He said that these gates are normally locked and are almost all locked except where someone has stolen the padlock. In other words, one of these gates could be open only if a criminal offence has taken place. That offence would be either theft of the padlock or criminal damage, if the gate has been prised open and left. By definition, from what was said earlier, it could only be,

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in these circumstances, that a criminal offence had taken place, given that these gates are normally locked and are almost always locked, except when someone has stolen the padlock.

I therefore entirely support amendment 20, because the clause would affect my constituents if they came to London. They might be familiar with gated roads in my constituency, or in any other constituency where this law would not apply, and they would think it would be perfectly all right to open the gate. They would drive through it quite innocently, without realising that they were committing a criminal offence.

Mr Chope: On reflection, would my hon. Friend agree that the biggest problem with the clause is that it criminalises the good samaritan? As the explanatory memorandum points out, it is an offence to drive along a road in breach of a road traffic regulation, so if somebody finds one of these gates open and closes it to prevent other people from committing road traffic offences by driving through that open gap, they will be liable to a criminal penalty under this clause.

Mr Nuttall: My hon. Friend makes a very good point. That is one of the problems with the clause: it will potentially make criminals out of people who seek to do good. That cannot be right. It also prompts the question of what signage would be in place. In the context of the other clauses, we were talking about trying to remove signs, but there now might need to be new signs to warn people that such activity is a criminal offence. I entirely support the amendment and I look forward to hearing from others.

Philip Davies rose—

Mr Speaker: Order. I call Mr Philip Davies, and I am modestly confident that the contribution will be relatively brief as I feel sure that he will wish to get on with the consideration of amendment 10. Nevertheless, I have come back to hear colleagues and I wish to hear from the hon. Gentleman.

Philip Davies: Among your many other great qualities, Mr Speaker, you are clearly a mind reader. I was only just thinking to myself that I must be brief so that we could get on to the next group of amendments. I commend you for that.

I find myself in a rather difficult position. I usually agree totally with my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) in his amendments, which are always thoughtfully considered and well argued. He usually manages to persuade me. I am rather torn on this group of amendments, however, as although he has persuaded me on some of them he has not on others. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) has done a great job in making the case for the proposers of the Bill and articulating their side of the argument and, in some cases, he has persuaded me.

I am not entirely sure how this might operate, as I am not an expert in the procedures of the House—unlike you, Mr Speaker, and my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch—but I want to tell my hon. Friend which of his amendments I think are strongest and on which he might, if possible, wish to divide the House. Some of the amendments are stronger than others.

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Some of my hon. Friend’s amendments are superficially attractive, as they generally are. He made a good point with amendments 1 and 2, which highlight provisions in the clause that are either bad or unnecessary. However, there is some merit in having some flexibility for the London boroughs in organising how they do business. There might be good reasons for trialling measures or introducing them at different times, and that flexibility should be allowed. The provisions might be superfluous but I do not see from listening to the arguments that they are particularly dangerous.

Mr Chope: At the risk of hastening my hon. Friend on, will he specify which he thinks are the best amendments in order of preference? If his remarks are cut short, we will then have heard him putting the best first so that we can consider on which of them we might wish to divide the House.

Philip Davies: I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I certainly will do that. To cut to the chase, his strongest amendment is amendment 5, on the issue of serving notices and whether someone is a resident or, as the Bill states, “appears to be” the resident. For me, the situation is completely nonsensical. On what basis does somebody appear to be a resident? One of us might be delivering leaflets in our constituency, as we do, and might have just left the door of a place only for somebody from the local authority come along to serve the notice. Seeing that we are leaving the door, they might serve us with the notice because they presume, quite wrongly, that we are the resident. All sorts of ridiculous scenarios could ensue. Sometimes, such provisions are just for the convenience of the laziness of local officials, so that they can use the justification that as far as they could see somebody appeared to be a resident and they therefore did not have to take any reasonable steps to ensure that that person was a resident. Surely the least any resident affected by these provisions can expect is that the authority concerned makes a proper effort to serve them with the relevant notice. If it was enough for someone to appear to be a resident, the local authority could, for its convenience, idly hand that person the notice, come what may. That is a ludicrous situation that we in this House should not tolerate, so I hope that my hon. Friend will consider pressing amendment 5 to a Division; that would be doing us a great service.

My hon. Friend’s other particularly strong amendment is amendment 20, on gated roads. This is a very important issue. As I mentioned in my intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East, there are often well-meaning, well-intentioned provisions in legislation that have totally perverse outcomes. As I said, if a person drives through a red light to allow an emergency vehicle through, they are liable to prosecution for the offence of going through a red light. People might think, “It would be ludicrous if anyone who went through a red light just to allow an emergency vehicle through was prosecuted. Surely that would never happen,” but people have been prosecuted in those very circumstances. It does actually happen.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East says that when someone opens the gates for a good, common-sense reason, they will not be prosecuted. I do not doubt that that is his genuine belief, but we cannot pass legislation on the basis of what we think is likely to happen; we have to look at what the legislation actually states. We cannot allow perversity in the law. What if

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there is a terrible accident, and someone says, “For goodness’ sake, open that gate! An emergency vehicle is coming along in five minutes, and we need this person to be dealt with as soon as possible,” so a person opens the gate, and then finds themselves with a criminal record because they had done something they were not allowed to do under this legislation? That would be ludicrous, and we would be enshrining that kind of perversity in law.

On the other hand, someone who is encouraged to open a gate because an emergency vehicle is coming in five minutes’ time may say, “No, I’m not opening the gate, because I know the legislation, and I will be committing a criminal offence if I do.” We may end up with that kind of idiotic situation as an unintended consequence of the Bill. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch will try to find a way for amendments 20 and 6 to be put to the vote.

My hon. Friends the Members for Christchurch and for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) were very gung-ho about amendment 9, and I feared that they might seek to put it to a vote. I advise a certain amount of caution, because including a reference to the owner of the land in the legislation is quite sensible. Clause 6 does not say that the highway authority has to go after the owner; it just allows the authority the flexibility to do so, if that is the right person to pursue.

Let me briefly show why that may be a good idea. If the provision mentioned only the person carrying out the works and the person on whose behalf the works were being carried out, the following scenario could arise. Say a landowner’s permission is sought for work to be carried out. Although they are happy for that work to be done, and may well have encouraged it to be done, it may not have been carried out on their behalf, and they may not be the people carrying it out. However, they could quite easily be just as liable as the other people for the damage done, because they gave their consent for the work, although it was inappropriate.

Another scenario may come into play. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch may unintentionally create a loophole with his amendment, because a wealthy landowner who does not want to be liable for any damage caused may get someone who has no means whatever to request that work be carried out, and get another person who has no means whatever to do the work. When the damage is done, the local authority has no means of recovering its money because the people who carried out and officially requested the work have nothing. The owner of the land, who actually wanted the work done in the first place, though that may not be evident at the time, gets away scot-free. I therefore fear that my hon. Friend could be creating a loophole, which would be unfortunate. Knowing him as I do, I am sure that would be an unintended consequence of what he is trying to achieve. I urge caution on him in pursuing amendment 9, even though I appreciate that my hon. Friends the Members for Christchurch and for Bury North feel that it is a particularly strong one.

8.45 pm

We had a long debate about whether approval should be given by the Secretary of State for Transport. I totally understood the point made by my hon. Friend

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the Member for Christchurch. Equally, I took the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East. There is merit in both cases and I do not think that one is stronger than the other. For that reason I would not want my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch to pursue amendment 3.

The same applies to amendment 4 about a building in a conservation area. My initial reaction was that that was a sensible amendment tabled by my hon. Friend. However, the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East about the view of English Heritage was a strong one. One would think that if any organisation is likely to want to protect conservation areas, it would be English Heritage. If it does not see this as a big issue, I am not entirely sure that I should, although my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North made a good point about decluttering. I did not read the provision as an attempt to declutter; to be honest, I saw it as an attempt to add clutter.

I caution my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East that what may be useful decluttering to a London resident may not necessarily be helpful to people who are not residents of London, but come down to visit London, as my constituents do. Signage that may be superfluous to a London resident is absolutely not superfluous to people from other parts of the country. The problem with localism for London is that London is a city that relies on lots of people from out of London visiting it. We can take localism too far in London and more thought should be given to people from Shipley, Bury, Dorset and other parts of the country who come and visit, and rely on some of those signs because they do not know the local area.

I have covered amendment 5 so I will not go over that again. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch thought amendment 6 was a good one. Advances in modern technology may well increase the need for e-mail and so on. I hope he will not press the amendment.

In the interests of brevity, I will not go through the other amendments that he ran through. I hope I have made it clear that on some it was good to tease out the answers from my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East, but those amendments are not worth pursuing. Amendments 5 and 20 are welcome and I hope my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch will find a way to press those to a Division.

Jim Fitzpatrick: I am grateful for the opportunity to follow the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies).

When the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) was initially moving his amendments in a self-deprecating fashion, saying that he is sometimes criticised for the role he plays in private Business, I said in an intervention that that is not the view on the Opposition Benches. We value the service he provides, ably assisted by his hon. Friends the Members for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) and for Shipley. I sometimes query whether the length of time taken is necessary, but I do not in any way, shape or form challenge, question or criticise the right to table amendments and make sure that legislation such as this is scrutinised.

Having listened to the arguments from the hon. Member for Christchurch and his hon. Friends and the explanations from the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman),

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I regret to inform the hon. Member for Christchurch that should he press any of the amendments in this group to a vote, Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition will not be joining him in the Lobby.

Mr Chope: With your encouragement, Mr Speaker, this has been a very civilised debate and we have covered the ground. As I said, this is the first opportunity we have had to look at much of the detail of the Bill. I am immensely grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) for having responded to the points that were made. I have been convinced by many of the arguments, and he produced answers to many of my concerns.

With regard to the two amendments that my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) identified as being worthy of further consideration by testing the will of the House, my inclination is not to press amendment 5, because my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East said that clause 5, to which the amendment relates, is a complete replication of the existing law set out in section 233 of the Local Government Act 1972, in which case to divide the House would probably be to seek its indulgence in a way that I would prefer not to do. I hope that it will be possible in due course to seek the House’s view on amendment 20, which would mean having a Division after we consider the next group of amendments.

Having listened to the debate, it seems to me that the issue of gated roads has national application, rather than being confined to London. If we are to create a completely new offence, as both my hon. Friends the Members for Shipley and for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) have said, we must ensure that the legislation is as plain as a pikestaff so that everybody knows where they stand. As my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East said, we cannot be in the business of passing laws that are a matter of interpretation.

I think that it would be wrong to create through legislation a new criminal offence that could have the effect of penalising a good Samaritan. As my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley said, it is idiotic that a person who closes a gate after him, when it had been open, could find himself on the wrong side of the criminal law. There is too much control by political correctness. We now have a situation in which firemen are not prepared to go and rescue somebody because that might be against health and safety regulations. We do not want a situation in which a person does not close a gate in their neighbourhood that is normally closed because they fear that to do so might be to commit a criminal offence. For those reasons, and thanking everybody who has contributed to the debate, I seek the leave of the House, at the appropriate moment, to test its opinion on amendment 20.

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I am clear that he wishes at some stage to test the will of the House on amendment 20, but could I ask him to be clear on whether he wishes to do so in respect of amendment 1?

Mr Chope: I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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Clause 8

Identifying the “owner” of a builder’s skip

Mr Chope: I beg to move amendment 10.

Mr Speaker: With this is will be convenient to consider amendments 11 to 19.

Mr Chope: These amendments relate to part 3 of the Bill, which deals with “Builders’ Skips”. It is important that we have a proper control regime for builders’ skips. It is also important that we are absolutely clear in our own minds about what the impact of the proposed changes to the Bill would be. For example, amendment 10 would add to section 8(1) so that the relevant highway authority could require the relevant person to provide them with the name and address of the owner of the builder’s skip

“where that information is not clearly and indelibly marked under the provisions of section 9”.

Section 9 provides that a skip must be

“clearly and indelibly marked with the owner’s name and with his telephone number or address”.

It seems to me that the best way of resolving this matter is to ensure that the skip must be, as amendment 15 suggests, clearly and indelibly marked with the owner’s name, telephone number and address. If that is done and there is no breach of the provision, it will not be necessary for the highway authority to exercise the power set out in clause 8 because the information that it is seeking to ascertain will already be in its knowledge and the knowledge of anybody else who looks at the skip in question. That would improve the wording of the Bill.

Amendment 11 challenges the current provision, which states:

“A requirement under this section shall specify the period within which it must be complied with, which must be a period no shorter than 3 working days beginning with the date on which the request was made.”

Bob Blackman rose

Mr Chope: I will take my hon. Friend’s intervention shortly, but I am going to anticipate it in my next comments. Prior to his looking at this because it was drawn to his attention by my amendment, nobody had thought through how reasonable a period of three working days would be in these circumstances. As a result of my tabling amendment 11 to insert 14 working days instead, he and the promoters of the Bill have seen the unreasonableness of the original proposition and the reasonableness of the amendment. He indicated in a letter that I received this morning that he would be willing to accept the amendment.

Bob Blackman: I congratulate my hon. Friend on tabling this amendment. The promoters are happy to accept it, and I do so on their behalf without the need for a Division.

Mr Chope: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend.

Amendments 12 and 13 deal with the level of penalty for any person convicted of an offence under clause 8(6), which says that

“in the case of an offence under paragraph (a)”

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the fine should be “not exceeding level 3”. However, under paragraph (a) the penalty would apply to somebody

“on whom a requirement is imposed…if…without reasonable excuse he fails to comply within the period specified”.

That means that he would not be providing the information within 14 working days. That is, I submit, a relatively minor contravention that should merit, if indeed it is prosecuted at all, only a fine not exceeding level 1 on the standard scale. Obviously, if a person responds to the requirement and, in so doing, gives information that he knows is false in a material particular, that is much more serious. The gravity of that could be reflected in a fine not exceeding level 3 rather than a massive one at level 5. I look forward to my hon. Friend explaining why the fine levels in the Bill were chosen.

Philip Davies: Will my hon. Friend clarify what sums are involved at levels 1, 3 and 5 so that we may better assess a reasonable amount that somebody should be fined?

Mr Chope: I am afraid that that is the exam question I hoped would not be asked, because I do not know the answer off the top of my head. What I do know, however, is that a fine not exceeding level 1 is much lower than a fine not exceeding level 5.

9 pm

Amendment 14 relates to the burden of proof and to avoiding the creation of offences of strict liability when strict liability is disproportionate and not appropriate. Clause 9 states that a penalty charge is payable if

“a builder’s skip has been deposited on a highway in accordance with a permission granted under…section 139 but the owner of the skip does not secure that…the skip is properly lighted”.

In other words, it is an offence of strict liability. The amendment would insert

“take any reasonable steps to”

after “not”, because if the owner has taken reasonable steps to secure that the skip is properly lit during the hours of darkness but something happens that causes it not to be properly lit, I do not think it would be reasonable to impose a penalty charge on the skip owner.

Philip Davies: Does my hon. Friend have in mind a scenario in which a skip that has been properly lit is vandalised by people who prevent it from being lit? As it stands the owner would still be liable even if he had done everything he could to ensure that the skip was properly lit. Does my hon. Friend think that “taking any reasonable steps” would protect somebody who was doing their best?

Mr Chope: That is exactly the scenario I had in mind. The owner might employ security guards to look at the skip regularly, but if the light was stolen or vandalised at some point would it be reasonable to say that the owner should be liable to a penalty charge?

When I spoke to amendment 10, I referred to amendment 15, which would strengthen the Bill because it would make it incumbent on the owner to take reasonable steps to ensure that the skip is clearly and indelibly marked with his name and telephone number and—rather

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than or—his address. Having a name and telephone number on a skip is not as good as having a name and address on a skip. I do not understand why the Bill’s promoters and drafters did not require both the telephone number and the address of the skip owner to be displayed. I would have thought that that would be much more preferable. That shows that these amendments are designed not to undermine the Bill, but to try to strengthen it where appropriate.

Amendment 16 relates back to clause 9(6)(d). Subsection (6) sets out, for the purposes of the London Local Authorities Act 2007, a number of provisions relating to

“the grounds on which representations may be made against a penalty charge 40 notice arising”,

one of which is paragraph (d), which notes that

“the contravention of the relevant provision in question was due to the act or default of another person and that he took all precautions and exercised all due diligence to avoid the contravention by himself or another person under his control.”

That seems brilliant, but subsection (8) states:

“Where the ground mentioned in subsection (6)(d) is relied on in any representations…the relevant highway authority may disregard the representations unless, before the representations are considered, the person making the representations has served on the relevant highway authority a notice in writing giving such information identifying or assisting in the identification of that other person as was then in his possession.”

That seems oppressive in the extreme. It would be fine to leave in subsection (6)(d) without subsection (8), and that is the purpose of amendment 16, which I hope will be acceptable to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman).

Philip Davies: Does my hon. Friend accept that if amendment 14 is accepted and requires someone to take “any reasonable steps” with regard to a properly lighted skip, we would not need subsection (8)? Amendment 14 is a much neater way of doing what the promoters of the Bill seem to be trying to do with their other provisions.

Mr Chope: Exactly. Sometimes the imagination of those who draft private Bills runs away with them and they think of all possible scenarios. Requiring someone who has taken all reasonable precautions to avoid a contravention to set out in writing their information about other people who might have been up to no good, goes too far.

On Second Reading, the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound), who I am sorry is not in his place, made a point about the immobilisation of builders’ skips—I think the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) also raised that issue. If a builder’s skip is unlit, not properly guarded, causing a nuisance, filled with rotting rubbish or whatever, is it sensible to immobilise it? That is the challenge I put to the promoters of the Bill with amendments 17 to 19, which would leave out clauses 12 to 14.

If the owners of a skip have offended against provisions in part 3 of the Bill, surely penalty notices and so on will be involved. To immobilise the skip in the meantime, thereby preventing its owner from removing it when it is not lit or causing a nuisance, seems to go slightly in the wrong direction. I am sure I am wrong about that, and when my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East responds to the debate he will put me right and explain

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why London would be a better place if all skips were immobilised. The fact that this was a cross-party issue and taken up on Second Reading was not properly addressed in Committee, so I hope it can be addressed in response to my remarks. I look forward to hearing from my hon. Friend in the hope that we can proceed with these amendments in a similar way to the previous ones.

Bob Blackman: I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) for outlining his various amendments. I will run briefly through the promoters’ view of each. I trust that he will see the logic that they have applied.

The amendments relate to proposals for the decriminalisation of the position on builders’ skips. The power to enforce the rules and if necessary—I emphasise that—immobilise skips when relevant notices are not complied with will instead be put in the hands of the local authority. The authority will have to be convinced that immobilisation is the correct thing to do.

Amendment 10 suggests that information should be provided only if it

“is not clearly and indelibly marked under the provision of section 9”.

I think my hon. Friend has got the wording incorrect, because the requirement set out in the Bill is under section 139 of the Highways Act 1980. The problem, as Members will see if they come to various parts of London and see skips on the roads, is that there may be a name on the side of a skip, but it might not be accurate, because skips are swapped around various companies at various times. The amendment would place a severe burden on skip suppliers to ensure that the details were accurate. On that basis, I do not think it would be sensible to accept it, particularly given the rest of the Bill’s provisions.

The promoters wish to accept amendment 11, and on reflection believe that 14 days should be allowed for compliance. That makes better sense.

Amendment 12 is about the maximum fine for not complying with a request. For clarification, I point out that a level 3 fine is currently £1,000 and a level 1 fine £200. The Government are currently consulting on increasing those levels fourfold, and the Ministry of Justice has raised no objections to the proposal that level 3 be the appropriate fine for the offence set out in clause 8(5)(a). In fact, a level 3 fine is lower than the fine in some equivalent cases. For example, under section 16 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976, the maximum fine for the equivalent offence is level 5, which is £5,000. The promoters have sought the right level for an offence of this type. If skips are placed on the road in contravention of highways law, appropriate fines are needed for the local authority to remedy the situation. If the owner did not provide relevant details, the local authority would find it difficult to remove the skip, immobilise it or take appropriate penalty action against the supplier. People need to understand that if they deliberately flout the rules, they will get a severe fine.

Amendment 13 is about the offence of knowingly supplying false information in response to a legitimate request from a local authority for the name of the provider and owner of a skip. The Bill currently provides

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for a level 5 fine, which is £5,000. The amendment would lower the fine to £1,000. A draconian fine is required to prevent people from knowingly misleading the local authority, so that they cannot leave a dangerous skip on the road without the authority being able to identify who had done so.

Amendment 14 lowers the threshold at which a penalty charge notice could be served when a skip owner does not take reasonable steps to comply with the existing requirements. We need to make it clear that the Bill is a decriminalisation measure. At the moment, there are no “reasonable steps” elements in it. The amendment, therefore, would water down the requirements considerably. The general public—motorists, pedestrians and others—have a right to believe that if skips are placed on the public highway, they will be properly positioned, properly lit and will not be dangerous to motorists or pedestrians. The amendment would water down the proposals considerably and unfairly.

9.15 pm

Mr Nuttall: My hon. Friend has said on a couple of occasions that this Bill is a decriminalisation measure. Many people will be somewhat mystified by a decriminalisation measure that clearly creates criminal offences.

Bob Blackman: The point is that these are criminal offences at the moment. The proposals would put the power relating to the public highway in the hands of local authorities, so that they would take action to prevent people from allowing dangerous structures—skips, in this particular case. There was something similar many years ago with parking control, for example. Parking control used to be enforced by the police. It was then decriminalised and put in the hands of local authorities to enforce. A similar position is proposed in the Bill. Instead of the police having to take action, local authority personnel would take action. That does not make it any less of a requirement. It shifts the requirement from the police, who I think we would all say have a big job to do anyway and should not have to do such work; it should be the job of local authorities. That is the purpose of the Bill, and that is why I describe it as a decriminalisation measure. The police enforce the criminal law; local authorities have a duty to enforce the Highways Act 1980 and other appropriate rules.

Mr Nuttall: On that point, will my hon. Friend inform the House what sort of court someone would be taken to under these offences? Who would enforce them?

Bob Blackman: A penalty charge notice would be issued initially. If that is paid, that is the end of the matter. If it is not paid, it is then presumably for the local authority—I would take advice on this—to take the matter to the county court or the magistrates court to push a position where liability orders would be obtained, and the enforcement action would follow in a similar vein to that of a parking offence on the public highway. Hopefully none of that would ever arise, because people would realise that if they failed to observe the rules they would face high penalties. We all want the streets to be safe. This is a set of proposals for when people deliberately flout the rules. We need draconian measures to ensure that that position is maintained.

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Mr Chope: My hon. Friend says that it is perfectly reasonable that somebody who owns a skip should be subject to massive penalty charges if in the course of the night the lighting is stolen or vandalised and ceases to operate through no fault of their own. Can that really be fair?

Bob Blackman: The current position is that were that to happen and lighting were removed, a criminal offence would have been committed. The police would step in and take appropriate action against either the owner of the skip or the owner of the property at which the skip was based. Clearly, we want skips that are placed on the public highway to be lit properly and placed in a sensible and not a dangerous position. I will come on to that point later. We can water down the criminal law and remove the ability of people simply to claim, “It’s nothing to do with me, guv. What can I do if someone removes the lighting?” That does not change the fact, however, that someone has driven their car into a badly lit skip, causing immense damage. At that point, it will be a matter of ensuring that the wrong is put right, and that, if it is not, a fine is issued. It is as simple as that.

Amendment 15 would require names, addresses and telephone numbers to be marked on skips. That would change the law in London, meaning that skip owners would face much more draconian measures in London than outside it. [Laughter.] My hon. Friends smile and laugh, but when someone acquires a skip in London, they do not necessarily acquire it from a site in London; they might acquire it from a skip owner outside London, who would then have to take it to London. If the amendment were passed, the owner would be burdened with having to mark the address and phone number in a way that did not apply in the rest of the country.

I know plenty of skip-owning firms that come from way outside London to provide skips, as well providing skips in their own areas. The amendment would provide for a regulatory burden in London that did not exist elsewhere, resulting in the potential problem of people inadvertently falling foul of the law. I agree that there might be an argument for amending national legislation in the way that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch suggested, but he is a promoter of deregulation, wherever possible, and I do not believe that we want to impose unnecessary regulation on businesses outside London. The amendment is therefore unnecessary and should not be pursued.

Amendment 16 deals with penalty charge notices. If we left out subsection (8), anyone served with a PCN could say, “It’s not me, guv. I’m not responsible.” As far as I am aware, whenever a PCN is issued for an offence on the highways, it is for the person served to substantiate whether someone else was responsible. If we left out the subsection, that person could say, “It’s nothing to do with me”, and then the authorities could not pursue those responsible. For that reason, we would resist the amendment.

Mr Nuttall: The logical conclusion is that the person on whom the authorities have served the notice must turn investigator and solve the problem themselves.

Bob Blackman: Clearly, it would be incumbent on the person served with the PCN to substantiate that the contravention was down to someone else, in the same way as they would make representations against any

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other PCN. The local authority would then examine those grounds, and if they were relevant and someone else was responsible, the PCN would be withdrawn and issued to the relevant person. That is exactly how local authorities deal with highways offences.

Amendments 17, 18 and 19 deal with potential immobilisation. Clearly, local authorities in London want the power to immobilise a skip if they deem it appropriate, but of course if a skip is in a dangerous position on the highways, the last thing they are going to do is immobilise it; they will want it removed. If, however, it is in a reasonably safe position and a notice to change the lighting has been issued, the local authority could step in, light the skip and immobilise it using the devices on the market that allow that to be done, making it safe for pedestrians and other road users. At the same time, they could pursue the person who has contravened the rules. A local authority would do that only if it was appropriate to do so, which is quite right. Amendments 17, 18 and 19 deal with that issue.

One of the challenges is what is in the skip. Obviously local authorities need the discretion to remove anything that is inappropriate.

Jim Fitzpatrick: If I remember correctly, my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) pointed out on Second Reading that many people did not realise that skips could be immobilised, given their size and weight. However, the hon. Gentleman has just explained that such devices are available. When it is safe, their use may be appropriate to prevent people from flouting their responsibilities when they place skips on our roads.

Bob Blackman: I thank the hon. Gentleman for clarifying the issue.

In summary, let me say on behalf of the promoters that we accept amendment 11 and oppose the rest of the amendments in this group. Part 3 of the Bill deals with appropriate action to make London streets safer when people put skips on the public highway, by ensuring appropriate fines and enforcement action when people break or flout the rules. We will accept amendment 11, but I invite my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch not to press the other amendments.

Philip Davies: I seek to fulfil the same role in this debate as I did in the debate on the previous group of amendments, by speaking briefly and highlighting for my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) where I think he is on to a winner and also where he has not necessarily persuaded me of the merits of his case.

I am rather puzzled by the whole debate on amendment 10. My hon. Friend made a good case for saying that we should ask people to supply information about the owner of a builder’s skip only

“where that information is not clearly and indelibly marked under the provisions of section 9,”

as his amendment sets out. If I understood my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) correctly—I am sure he will correct me if I am wrong, which I may well be—he was saying that because skips change ownership quite often, having just a name, telephone number, address or whatever it might be on the skip would not necessarily be a good enough indicator of the actual owner, because the skip might have changed hands a couple of times since those markings were

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applied. That might well be true, but the problem is that it flies in the face of clause 9, which states that the owner would have to ensure—I might add that anyone who did not do this would have to pay a fine—that

“the skip is clearly and indelibly marked with the owner’s name and with his telephone number or address”.

The promoters of the Bill cannot have it both ways. They cannot say that such information is required for the purposes of clause 9, but that it would be unfair to require it in clause 8. I would advise my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East to have another think, because my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch is simply proposing a modest, common-sense amendment that goes with the flow of the Bill, not against it.

Mr Nuttall: Perhaps I can assist my hon. Friend. The difference might be that clause 8(1) refers to “the name and address”, whereas clause 9(3)(b)(iii) refers to “telephone number or address”, so perhaps the owner could give a telephone number, but not an address.

Philip Davies: I appreciate that point, but amendment 10, standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch, simply says that if the information was already clearly marked, it would not have to be requested. To me that seems a sensible and modest amendment, and I certainly agree with it.

I am delighted that amendment 11 has been accepted—we do not need to waste any time on that. I do not intend to delay the House for long by discussing amendments 12 and 13. I do not have a strong opinion on the level of the fine, but I want to make a wider point on legislation generally. If we look at different pieces of legislation “in silo”, we might find individual fines appropriate or inappropriate, but we could end up in the ridiculous situation whereby some serious offences attract small penalties and some minor ones attract severe ones. Instead, we ought to look at the criminal justice system as a whole, to determine the appropriate level for different severities of crime. I wonder whether this particular offence could attract a much more severe penalty than other, more serious, crimes.

9.30 pm

I want to concentrate on amendment 14, because I think my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch is on to a winner there. He proposes that the owner of a skip should pay a penalty charge if they do not